Recently, U.S. immigration laws and policies have been the center of media attention. First, there was the deferred action decision from the Obama administration to temporarily stop the deportation of immigrant youth who were brought to the country as minors. Then came the decision of the Supreme Court to strike down most of Arizona’s SB 1070 law. Both of these actions received mixed reviews from opposing factions, thereby handing no one side a clear victory. The administration’s decision is a temporary “fix” with no clear process as yet for how it will be handled on the ground. And although the Supreme Court decision upheld the centerpiece of the Arizona law, the “show me your papers” provision, it also rejected measures that would have subjected illegal immigrants to criminal penalties for activities like seeking work.
Much remains unsettled. What is clear, however, is the need for the federal government to take action on the long-delayed issue of immigration reform. It is the job of the federal government, not individual states, to craft a bipartisan solution that is fair to immigrants and native-born citizens alike. The Obama administration’s temporary halt to the deportation of young immigrants who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act was fueled by Congress’s refusal to take action on the matter. And, the Supreme Court’s split ruling on the Arizona law was likewise an acknowledgement that states cannot interfere the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said, “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
Here in North Carolina, reaction to the Supreme Court decision has been mixed. Many of us who work with immigrants on a daily basis are concerned that the state legislature might adopt a “show me your papers” provision similar to that in Arizona and that this might open the door to racial profiling. Personally, I believe that it will also fan the flames of smoldering xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. Recently, the Charlotte Observer reported that U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack, was in town to tout renewable-energy initiatives. Vilsak remarked that the agriculture sector depends heavily on immigrant labor. At least 50 percent of the food Americans consume “is picked, processed or packaged by immigrant hands,” he said.
He criticized those who favor large-scale deportations. “Shame on the people who use this to scare people for political advantage,” he said. Like many of us, he favors comprehensive immigration reform that would involve securing the border, having immigrants pay taxes, learn English and gain the ability to work with a permit. Such a process would allow an immigrant to qualify for citizenship “down the road,” without getting ahead of those who are already here legally, he said.
I agree. We must push Congress to take bipartisan action that truly leads to a long term fix for our broken immigration system. Our current policies are outdated, punitive, and not connected to the real demands for immigrant labor in many sectors of our society. Deserving immigrants should be able to earn a real path to citizenship, not languish in the shadows.
Stop by International House and meet some of our clients. These are some of the hardest working people I know, willing to take menial jobs in order to support their families, eager to learn English, and taking very seriously the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. I am inspired by them every day. I will continue to hope that one day soon our immigration system will become a priority for a Congress who will acknowledge the contributions of these remarkable neighbors.